STYUECLE, John, of Woolley and Great Stukeley, Hunts. and Madingley, Cambs.
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Family and Education
Assessor of a tax, Hunts. May 1379, Dec. 1380; surveyor Mar. 1381; collector of an aid on the marriage of Princess Blanche Dec. 1401, a tax Mar. 1404, a royal loan, Sept. 1405.
Commr. of oyer and terminer Hunts. Sept. 1379 (disorder at St. Neots), June 1385 (poaching on the bp. of Ely’s estates at Somersham); to suppress the rebels June 1381; of array Apr. 1385, Mar. 1392, Aug. 1402; sewers, Cambs., Norf. Apr., May 1392; kiddles, Hunts. June 1398; inquiry Feb. 1402 (murder at Bythorn).
Verderer of the royal forest of Weybridge and Sapley, Hunts. to Mar. 1385.
J.p. Hunts. 12 Nov. 1397-May 1401, prob. 8 Feb.1418-22.
The Styuecles were an influential and long-established Huntingdonshire family, and our Member was the younger son of a former sheriff and escheator who had frequently represented the county in Parliament. On the latter’s death, in about 1377, the bulk of his estates went to Sir Nicholas, the eldest of his three sons, whose patrimony comprised several manors including those of Great and Little Raveley, Great and Little Stukeley, Upwood, Great Staughton and Beechamstead, as well as extensive farmland most of which lay in an arc to the north of Huntingdon. John Styuecle held at least three of these manors in trust on behalf of his brother and his wife (Beatrice, the daughter of Sir Andrew Luttrell), who also made him a feoffee-to-uses of their property in Buckden, Diddington, Southoe, Boughton and the Cambridgeshire village of Madingley. His own share of this rich inheritance was naturally far less impressive, although his father assured him an adequate income from his mother’s manor of Woolley, and also settled upon him the reversion of the two manors of Little Gidding and Coppingford, part of which he had bought specifically for this purpose, just before his death, from the stepson of John’s friend, Sir Robert Stokes*. The reversion fell in at some point after 1389, by which date John had already conveyed it to two sets of feoffees, among whom was his brother. He also appears to have inherited ‘Rawlyns manor’ in Great Stukeley, which was likewise the subject of various enfeoffments, and which is mentioned, along with Woolley, as being one of his two residences in a licence of 1388, whereby the bishop of Lincoln permitted him and his wife to use a private oratory. A desire to consolidate these holdings led him to purchase a modest estate in Keyston, in 1384, from Thomas and Elizabeth Fauconer; and, as we shall see, he was also prompted to capitalize on the forfeitures demanded by the Merciless Parliament of 1388 by engaging in some ill-considered speculation in the property market. Otherwise, his position as a landowner remained unchanged until 1395, when Sir Nicholas died childless, leaving him heir to all the above-mentioned holdings.2
Although Sir Nicholas Styuecle stands out as the more distinguished of the two brothers, being a knight, and also, like his father before him, serving as sheriff of Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, John was himself a figure of some consequence in the local community from a comparatively early date. Their close personal relationship meant that they often acted together as witnesses and trustees for neighbouring landowners, such as Robert Beville* and Sir William Moigne* (their kinsman), but John alone assisted many other people in this capacity. His assiduity in this respect suggests that he trained as a lawyer, which would certainly explain why the dean and chapter of Lincoln retained him at a fee of 20s. a year for the best part of a decade. Moreover, while still comparatively young, he became a feoffee for Sir William Castleacre (who subsequently made him his executor); and from 1391 onwards he was a member of a trust set up on behalf of William Beauchamp, Lord Abergavenny, heir, through a complex entail, to the estates of the earls of Pembroke. Prominent among his fellow trustees were Sir William Bagot* and Sir Henry Green*, who were later to become the chief agents of Richard II’s absolutist policies, and he also had dealings with Reynold, Lord Grey of Ruthin, and Richard, earl of Arundel, the more immediate beneficiaries of the entail.3 Over the years Styuecle acquired an interest in many properties, often with the purpose of making endowments on religious houses. On at least three occasions he was a party to the alienation in mortmain of land to the prior and convent of the Blessed Virgin in Huntingdon, while also becoming a trustee of holdings intended for the enrichment of Sawtry abbey, the parish church of Coates (in Cambridgeshire) and the college of St. Mary Newarke in Leicester.4 Not all of these transactions can easily be distinguished from his more routine activities as a feoffee for other friends and associates, but we know that he held estates on behalf of yeomen farmers and small time rentiers throughout Huntingdonshire, as well as involving himself in the affairs of, inter alios, Thomas Waweton, his colleague in the first Parliament of 1397, and the distinguished shire knights Sir John Cheyne I*, Ralph Green*, John Mulsho* and Reynold Ragon*.5
Styuecle was hardly less in demand as a mainpernor in the court of Chancery and at the Exchequer, performing this service at least 14 times, most notably for Sir John Burgh (who also made him and his brother feoffees), the courtier, Sir William Thorpe†, Eudo Zouche, archdeacon of Huntingdon, and Janico Dartasso, then an esquire of the body to Richard II, but later a prominent adherent of the house of Lancaster.6 In this he was occasionally associated with John Holt, the son of Sir John Holt, sometime j.c.p., who, following impeachment by the Commons, had been banished from England in 1388 by the Lords. Wishing to atone in some small measure for the losses suffered by his servant, Richard II permitted John Holt the younger to buy back the estates which had then been confiscated from his father, and in July 1391 Styuecle and his friend, John Mulsho, agreed to guarantee Holt’s payment of £500 as purchase price. Styuecle had already joined with Holt in raising a loan of £80 from the London merchant, John Belle; and it seems likely that his part in this venture encouraged him to make an offer of his own for the land which had been forfeited at the same time by Sir Robert Bealknap, c.j.c.p., another victim of the Merciless Parliament, who, like Holt, had been sent into exile. In March 1392, King Richard undertook to sell him the property for 400 marks, half of which was to be handed over at once, in cash, while the rest was pledged to certain royal creditors, to whom Styuecle stood bound in heavy securities. His brother, Sir Nicholas, and John Mulsho were ready to stand surety for him at the Exchequer, although both must soon have come to regret their decision.7
Styuecle’s finances are now extremely difficult to understand, not least because his manifold responsibilities as a trustee led him to underwrite several bonds which did not affect him personally. In 1389, for instance, he was a party to four recognizances in sums of up to 500 marks in his capacity as guarantor and agent for his close friend, Robert Digswell*; and a few years later we find him among the associates of his distinguished client, Lord Abergavenny, who were ‘jointly and severally bound with him by divers bonds for his debts and for the performance of other covenants’, one such obligation, entered in January 1392, being alone worth £60,000. Indeed, during the period immediately preceding his purchase of the Bealknap estates, Styuecle both offered and received many notable securities, the majority of which can safely be regarded as routine undertakings by which he himself was protected from the likelihood of personal loss.8 Between March 1392 and November 1394, however, he entered into no less than eight obligations, in which he, his brother and various members of their circle, including William Wenlock*, an intimate of longstanding, and Richard Botiller*, bound themselves in sums ranging from £66 to 1,200 marks to such influential figures as John of Gaunt, the prior of Ely, Sir Philip Tilney* and Sir James Roos.9
Some, if not all, of these recognizances must have been made as a result of Styuecle’s contract with the King; and it is clear that he soon began to experience serious problems in meeting his commitments. According to a petition later submitted by him to Parliament, these difficulties were not of his own making, but arose because of Richard’s decision to award the Bealknap estates first to his uncle, the duke of Gloucester, and then, on the victory of the court party in 1397, to the judge himself, while still retaining the 400 marks originally paid for them by Styuecle. The latter was thus faced with a heavy burden of debts far in excess of the purchase price itself, and since he had already lost whatever additional revenues he might have hoped to obtain from the contested property, he had to raise yet more loans to satisfy his original creditors. Sir Nicholas Styuecle’s death in 1395 must have eased the situation, as it brought him a greatly increased rent-roll, but the respite was only short lived. In the following year, for example, he and John Mulsho’s son, Thomas Mulsho*, bound themselves by statute of the Staple of Westminster to repay a debt of 400 marks to the prior of the Charterhouse of London within a few months. Their failure to do so led, in February 1407, to Styuecle’s temporary imprisonment, rents worth £36 a year being assigned from his Huntingdonshire estates until the sum was paid. He appears also to have borrowed from his kinsman, Sir Andrew Luttrell, and the abbot of Westminster, although once again it is impossible to tell exactly how often he was acting on his own behalf and how often for other people. Securities of £100 offered by him to the prior of Ely in 1398 were, for instance, part of an arrangement guaranteeing the payment of rent by a tenant of the priory, and another series of bonds which he surrendered at the turn of the century were likewise concerned with the affairs of Richard Bassyngham, a Huntingdonshire landowner. Even so, there can be little doubt that by 1399 Styuecle’s finances were in a truly parlous state. In a complaint addressed to Henry IV’s first Parliament, he begged that either the Bealknap estates themselves or else the 400 marks which he had paid for them should be restored to him as soon as possible,
considerant que s’il neit la dit bargayn ne repaiement du dite summe come dissire il auera perde et damage a luy importables, et noun pas en defaute de luy, et sauntz remedie.
Yet no remedy was forthcoming, and, as we have seen, Styuecle found himself powerless to avoid the humiliation of forfeiture for debt. From 1409 onwards he seems to have had no alternative but to sell off part of his estates, possibly to existing creditors. The London merchant, John Shadworth*, who acquired his manor of Coppingford in 1415, may well have been foreclosing on a mortgage, since Styuecle had borrowed 200 marks from him and his business associate, John Herries*, some six years earlier. Other holdings went to Sir John Knyvet* and Nicholas Kymbell; and it is interesting to note that over the years 1408 to 1410, when these sales occurred, Styuecle was again a party to various bonds, often in comparatively high sums of £200 and £300. We do not know when Sir John (later Lord) Tiptoft* acquired the manor of Woolley, but Styuecle made a new settlement of his estates there at this time, perhaps with a transfer of ownership in mind. Tiptoft was certainly in possession well before 1428, having had his title confirmed by Styuecle’s descendants. In all, therefore, it seems that the petition of 1399 was not couched in the hyperbole usually employed on such occasions, being a remarkably accurate forecast of the growing burden of debt which proved almost impossible to shake off.10
Any study of Styuecle’s career is inevitably dominated by the history of his financial problems, and his struggle to obtain redress from Richard II may well account for his decision to stand for Parliament in January 1397. The Bealknap estates were then in the hands of the duke of Gloucester, whose fall, later in the year, had no material effect upon Styuecle’s fortunes, although the triumph of the court party at least led to his appointment as a local j.p. His social position more than qualified him to sit on the Huntingdonshire bench: he had already served both as a tax collector and as a royal commissioner, and despite the difficulties which beset him after 1392 he remained an influential figure in the county. The rest of the surviving evidence certainly confirms this impression. As early as May 1382 he was accorded royal letters of pardon, probably to cover any illegalities committed by him as verderer of the royal forests of Sapley and Weybridge. Six years later the vicar of Grafton by Cranford, who was going to Ireland, chose him to supervise his affairs in England; and in 1394 he again acted as an attorney, this time for Sir Roger Cophill, a member of the King’s Irish expedition. A further mark of his status may be found in the award to him of a papal indult dated November 1398 for the plenary remission of sins at the hour of death. Henry IV evidently held him in esteem, not only re-appointing him to the local bench, but also summoning him to attend a great council in August 1401 as a representative for Huntingdonshire. Two further royal communications of October 1402 and April 1403 requesting personal loans (the second of which was for £100) elicited a less enthusiastic response, and may well have precipitated another financial crisis. Perhaps because he was so preoccupied with other matters and feared to sustain yet more expenses, Styuecle rarely went to law. In July 1396 he was trying, vainly, to recover a long overdue debt of seven marks; and in 1407 and again in 1420 he had cause to complain to the Crown about the withdrawal of labour services by his tenants at Woolley. Commissions of oyer and terminer were set up on both occasions, being made up of such friends and neighbours as Henry Hethe* and John Holt the younger, who could be relied upon to suppress any local discontent. Meanwhile, in the summer of 1404, our Member began to make provision for the endowment of a chantry at his parish church of Little Stukeley, which he intended to finance through an exchange of property with the abbot of Ramsey. In view of his chronic lack of money at this time, it seems unlikely that the plan was ever fully implemented, although he continued to exercise his right of advowson and present to the church on a regular basis throughout this period.11
Although some antiquarians have argued that Styuecle died in, or before, 1407, he is known from contemporary sources to have survived until June 1420, when he was still involved in settling the estate of Sir William Castleacre—a task which had occupied him for the best part of 16 years, and which had further complicated his already tortuous dealings with John Herries. He was also chosen to execute the wills of John Depyng (d.1410), the rector of ‘Werketon’, and of Sir John Holt (d.1419), with whose son he maintained a continuous and close connexion. It was almost certainly he and not his son, John, who in 1408 paid 3s.4d. to become a member of the socially prestigious Trinity guild of St. Botolph’s without Aldersgate in London; and although he must then have been well over 60, it seems more than likely that the MP was named on the 1418 commission of the peace for Huntingtonshire. Indeed, since the last reference to John Styuecle the younger occurs in 1388 we may justifiably assume that he predeceased his father. At all events, one of the two men left a son and heir named Ralph, who, in 1434, confirmed his kinsman, (Sir) Nicholas Styuecle*, in possession of part of the family estates. Both Ralph and (Sir) Nicholas died at about the same time, so it looks very much as if they were cousins or brothers.12
Ref Volumes: 1386-1421
Variants: Steucle, Stiuecle, Stucle, Styvecle.
- 1. CCR, 1374-7, pp. 537-9; VCH Hunts. ii. 231; iii. 126; Hunts. Feet of Fines (Cambridge Antiq. Soc. xxxvii) 93-94.
- 2. Hunts. Feet of Fines, 88, 90-91, 93-94, 99; CCR, 1374-7, pp. 230, 537-9; 1377-81, pp. 480-1; 1402-5, p. 234; CIPM, xvi. no. 433; VCH Hunts. ii. 231, 265; iii. 54, 72, 126; Lincs. AO, Reg. Buckingham, XII, f. 347v.
- 3. CCR, 1377-81, p. 200; 1388-9, pp. 444, 612; 1392-6, p. 480; 1399-1402, pp. 94-96, 236-7, 479; 1419-22, pp. 113-14; CPR, 1377-81, p. 253; 1388-92, p. 514; 1391-6, pp. 638, 697-8; 1399-1401, pp. 444, 538; VCH Hunts. iii. 89; Hunts. Feet of Fines, 88, 90, 94-95; Add. Ch. 34172; Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. xvii. 143; Lincs. AO, Dean and Chapter muns, Bi 2.8. ff. 50, 72v, 94v, 116v, 140v; 2.10 ff. 9v, 33v, 57, 79v.
- 4. C143/403/34, 414/10, 415/13, 422/3; CPR, 1385-9, p. 313; 1391-6, pp. 3, 67; 1396-9, p. 443; Add. Chs. 33513, 33516, 34066.
- 5. C143/395/24, 429/1; CP25(1)6/73/26; E326/4395; CCR, 1377-81, p. 484; 1385-9, p. 316; 1388-92, pp. 297-8; 1399-1402, pp. 117-18, 129-30; 1413-19, pp. 272-3; CPR, 1377-81, p. 410; 1385-9, p. 26; 1399-1401, p. 207; CIPM (Rec. Comm.), iii. 25, 254; Cambs. Feet of Fines, 142; Hunts. Feet of Fines, 87, 90-93, 98; Add. Ch. 33335.
- 6. CFR, viii. 333; x. 244; xi. 101; CCR, 1377-81, p. 474; 1388-92, pp. 309, 311, 542, 549, 550; 1392-6, pp. 271, 423; 1399-1402, p. 320; 1409-13, p. 308; CPR, 1396-9, p. 279.
- 7. SC8/142/7056, 7059; CPR, 1388-92, pp. 285-6; 1391-6, pp. 47-48; CCR, 1389-92, p. 334; 1399-1402, pp. 352-3; CIMisc. vii. no. 427.
- 8. CCR, 1385-9, pp. 248, 603, 643-4; 1389-92, pp. 104, 283, 310, 538-9, 558; 1392-6, p. 511; 1396-9, p. 83.
- 9. CCR, 1389-92, p. 552; 1392-6, pp. 81, 119, 144, 151, 233, 236, 255.
- 10. C131/55/4; SC8/142/7056, 7059; CCR, 1392-6, p. 511; 1396-9, pp. 86, 128, 390, 486; 1399-1402, pp. 97, 193, 280, 473, 488; 1405-9, p. 518; 1409-13, pp. 69, 73, 118; 1413-19, pp. 107, 284; VCH Cambs. v. 130; VCH Hunts. iii. 37, 54, 126.
- 11. C67/29 m. 11; VCH Hunts. ii. 231; Add. Ch. 33270; CPR, 1385-9, p. 492; 1391-6, p. 472; 1396-9, p. 126; 1405-8, p. 358; 1416-22, p. 275; CPL, v. 136; PPC, i. 158, 202; ii. 74, 76.
- 12. CCR, 1419-22, pp. 113-14; 1429-35, p. 296; Hunts. Feet of Fines, 93-94; VCH Hunts. ii. 231; iii. 126; Early Lincoln Wills ed. Gibbons, 118, 125; Add. 37664 f. 20b.